How the Platforms Have Changed
Today in the United States of America, there are two dominant political parties, The Republican Party, founded in 1854, and the Democratic Party, founded in 1828. These political parties periodically put forth their official platforms. A platform is an official document made available by a party that outlines their goals and thoughts on current events and issues. Many platforms between the two major parties over the years do share similar themes, issues, and, at many times, agreed upon stances. In this article, we are going to explore how party platforms change over the years. Democrats have not always been the party that we see today, and Republicans have quite the intriguing beginning. It is important to note that not all ideas comprising a party’s platform are necessarily supported by all members of the party.
The Early Days (Mid to Late 1800’s)
The Democrats ratified their first platform in the year 1840 (Library of Congress) based on the idea of individual states, rather than the federal government, being responsible for a wide variety of issues, from building roads to deciding on slavery’s legality. A quote from the Democrats’ first platform (1840 Dem Platform):
Resolved, That the federal government is one of limited powers, derived solely from the constitution, and the grants of power shown therein, ought to be strictly construed by all the departments and agents of the government, and that it is inexpedient and dangerous to exercise doubtful constitutional powers
This language is indicative of a party that clearly wanted limited federal government in state affairs, fearing the possibility of overreach, and in turn, tyranny. Another snippet provided an interesting glance into their principles:
Which makes ours the land of liberty, and the asylum of the oppressed of every nation, have ever been cardinal principles in the democratic faith; and every attempt to abridge the present privilege of becoming citizens, and the owners of soil among us, ought to be resisted with the same spirit which swept the alien and sedition laws from our statute-book
This quote from the Democratic platform sounds similar to current rallying cries heard at protests around the country regarding immigration. This stance says that any attempt to curtail the ability of an individual becoming a citizen, and a stakeholder in the country’s future, should be resisted. For context, this same year, 1840, was a year where Democrats were split on the legality of slavery. Northern democrats favored states making a decision for themselves, and southern Democrats favored complete legality across the expanding country (History Ch). This split would cause a lack of clear direction for the party, which allowed a different party to take advantage.
The Republican Party was born from a faction within the Whig Party that opposed slavery at all costs. The party fiercely competed in the presidential election of 1856 with their candidate for president, John Fremont. This rise in their popularity led to many southern states threatening to secede if Republicans took the White House. When 1860 came, a Republican by the name of Abraham Lincoln won his party’s nomination for president, and won the general election over the divided Democrats. A quote from the Republican Party platform of 1860 (1860 Rep Platform):
That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom: That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that "no persons should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States. That we brand the recent reopening of the African slave trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity and a burning shame to our country and age; and we call upon Congress to take prompt and efficient measures for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic
These Republicans were ready to do whatever necessary to completely abolish slavery from the United States and its territories. Of course, Republicans won the election, a Civil War ensued, and the country did abolish slavery under the Republican leadership.
Nearing the end of the 19th century, Democrats put forth platforms seeking to enhance public school education, curtail immigration by people who could threaten American wages, protect unions, and reduce the perceived government overreach by Republicans. The Republicans at that time called for the continued enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, continued support for other nations rising up against oppressors for liberty, such as Cuba against Spain, and identified that women should be paid equal pay for equal work.
The Roaring Twenties (Early 1900’s)
Once the country could see the Gilded Age and the Great Awakening in its rearview, it found itself on the brink of entering World War I. Democrats of this time were thinking about a potential upcoming war. Here is an excerpt from the 1916 Democratic Platform (1916 Dem Platform)
The people of the United States love peace. They respect the rights and covet the friendship of all other nations. They desire neither any additional territory nor any advantage which cannot be peacefully gained by their skill, their industry, or their enterprise; but they insist upon having absolute freedom of National life and policy, and feel that they owe it to themselves and to the role of spirited independence which it is their sole ambition to play that they should render themselves secure against the hazard of interference from any quarter, and should be able to protect their rights upon the seas or in any part of the world. We therefore favor the maintenance of an army fully adequate to the requirements of order, of safety, and of the protection of the nation's rights, the fullest development of modern methods of seacoast defence and the maintenance of an adequate reserve of citizens trained to arms and prepared to safeguard the people and territory of the United States against any danger of hostile action which may unexpectedly arise; and a fixed policy for the continuous development of a navy, worthy to support the great naval traditions of the United States and fully equal to the international tasks which this Nation hopes and expects to take a part in performing.
The Democrats were clearly ready to protect the idea of America from any enemy that could threaten the country. The Republicans at that time had a similar take on expanding the military to ensure that, “no enemy can gain command of the sea and effect a landing in force on either our Western or our Eastern coast” (1916 Rep Platform).
After the war, the Republicans of 1924 sought to lower taxes, help farmers prosper, make sure that no governmental agency could compete with a private business, and enforce anti-lynching laws (1924 Rep Platform). The Democrats in 1924 were at a cross roads. Their party candidates were William McAdoo, who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and did not reject the endorsement, and New York Governor Al Smith, who was a Catholic man part of the party’s faction that was anti-Klan (Politico). In the end, neither man won the general election. At the ballot box, their eventual candidate lost to Republican Calvin Coolidge. Eventually, Democrats got a candidate in 1932 to win their first election in a long time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Post World War II America (Mid 1900’s)
In the 1950’s, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and had entered the Korean War. The 1956 Republican platform (1956 Rep Platform), which was the 100 year anniversary of its founding, shared a quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower saying, “In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people's money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.” The Republican Party went on further to state support for the United Nations, oppose the Communist Party of China, and clarify the need for a balanced budget, reduced taxes, strong unions, and an expansion of Social Security benefits.
The Democratic Party Platform of 1956 preached a need for bold leadership, something they felt the Republican leaders lacked (1956 Dem Platform). This lack of leadership accusation was due to the rise of Communist Parties across the world. Of the prospect of peace in the Middle East, another issue at the time, the Democrats wrote:
We will urge Israel and the Arab States to settle their differences by peaceful means, and to maintain the sanctity of the Holy Places in the Holy Land and permit free access to them.
We will assist Israel to build a sound and viable economy for her people, so that she may fulfill her humanitarian mission of providing shelter and sanctuary for her homeless Jewish refugees while strengthening her national development.
We will assist the Arab States to develop their economic resources and raise the living standards of their people. The plight of the Arab refugees commands our continuing sympathy and concern. We will assist in carrying out large-scale projects for their resettlement in countries where there is room and opportunity for them.
The Democrats go further regarding immigration, saying:
The administration of the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 has been a disgrace to our country. Rescue has been denied to innocent, defenseless and suffering people, the victims of war and the aftermath of wars. The purpose of the Act has been defeated by Republican mismanagement.
At this time in the century, Democrats also had strong ideals for expanded housing so that every American family would be entitled to “a decent home and suitable living environment.” They also wanted to see mortgage programs and home insurance favor the home owner, and provide aid to urban and suburban communities to better plan for future development. The platform also states support for a constitutional amendment providing equal rights for women.
The Late 20th Century (1980 – 2000)
A Party of Hope. This was the declaration by the 1984 Republican platform that they are now the “Party of Hope-not for some but for all” (Rep Platform 1984). Republicans at this time through their platform were seeking a way to help the poor escape poverty through building an economy that would create jobs. A big point made by this platform was that they felt the Federal government had grown too large, and that it should be reduced in size. One way to change this was vast cuts to taxes, in particular the tax brackets. Through the Economic Recovery Act of 1981, marginal tax rates were cut by 25% and Republicans signaled support for increased spending on science and technology research, expanded use of American coal, and more nuclear energy. The Republican Party also had a stance on discrimination, saying:
Just as we must guarantee opportunity, we oppose attempts to dictate results. We will resist efforts to replace equal rights with discriminatory quota systems and preferential treatment. Quotas are the most insidious form of discrimination: reverse discrimination against the innocent. We must always remember that, in a free society, different individual goals will yield different results.
This opinion is clarifying the difference the Republican Party saw between Civil Rights and equality, and a perceived unequal way to force quotas.
Democrats in 1992 saw a bleak future for America. Their 1992 party platform (1992 Dem Platform) stated that the hurting American people have not seen any expanded opportunities, middle class families were falling behind, and all of this came amid a backdrop of an explosion of poverty. Repeatedly calling the Platform the “Revolution of 1992”, Democrats wanted a “radical change” in government function, looking for more efficient government and results-driven policy.
Democrats wanted to see expanded funding for transportation, a re-investment of defense savings in education and research, and true competition in the technology age against Germany and Japan. Democrats signaled support for the funding of inner-city summer job initiatives, a crackdown on redlining and housing discrimination, and a form of a bank to lend to the poor seeking to be self-employed rather than taking welfare. Another feature of the platform was for a Domestic Government Issue Bill (G.I. Bill). In the midst of declining middle-class incomes and rising education costs, Democrats wanted to see college become more affordable to students who were qualified, regardless of income level. Student loans would be paid off by students through “national service addressing unmet community needs” which translates to loan forgiveness for working with at-risk communities.
Democrats believed “welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life,” a goal being that no one who is able to work can be on welfare forever, and no one who works should be in poverty. And one right, the right to choose, was more present than ever:
It is a fundamental constitutional liberty that individual Americans—not government—can best take responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely personal decisions regarding reproduction. The goal of our nation must be to make abortion less necessary, not more difficult or more dangerous. We pledge to support contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing and enable parents to care most effectively for their children.
Finally, Democrats finishing off the century wanted to see affordable health care become a reality. From the 1992 Democratic platform:
All Americans should have universal access to quality, affordable health care—not as a privilege, but as a right. That requires tough controls on health costs, which are rising at two to three times the rate of inflation, terrorizing American families and businesses and depriving millions of the care they need. We will enact a uniquely American reform of the health care system to control costs and make health care affordable; ensure quality and choice of health care providers; cover all Americans regardless of preexisting conditions; squeeze out waste, bureaucracy and abuse; improve primary and preventive care including child immunization and prevention of diseases like Tuberculosis now becoming rampant in our cities; provide expanded education on the relationship between diet and health; expand access to mental health treatment services; provide a safety net through support of public hospitals; provide for the full range of reproductive choice—education, counseling, access to contraceptives, and the right to a safe, legal abortion; expand medical research; and provide more long term care, including home health care.
Entering the new century, both parties would be thrown in to a very different world.
The 21st Century (2000 to Today)
When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred, America was in a time of peace, but became completely enveloped with a new type of foe. Republicans in the early 2000’s sought to ensure airports, seaports, and the border had enhanced security. In particular, the Republican platform of 2004 (2004 Rep Platform) wanted to see a stronger border patrol to stop illegal crossings, and wanted to penalize smugglers and those who falsify documents. The Republican platform also called for traditionary military culture, stating:
The men and women of the National Guard and Reserve are an important part of the nation’s military readiness, and we will maintain their strength in the states. Their role as citizen soldiers must continue to be a proud tradition that links every community in the country with the cause of national security. We affirm traditional military culture, and we affirm that homosexuality is incompatible with military service…… We support the advancement of women in the military, (and) support their exemption from ground combat units.
A priority for Republicans at this time was to also protect workers’ rights. They felt that workers deserved workplaces that were safe, healthy, and fair. The platform stated how American workers “deserve fair wages for hours spent working overtime.” Republicans also changed how pension payments were determined, being based on an employee’s best three years of earnings, not their last three. To take on affordable health care, Republicans warned that shifting the cost of health care to the government would only be a bigger burden by tax payers. Republicans sought to attack the root cause of higher health costs by aiding small businesses in being able to provide healthcare, putting patients and doctors in charge of medical decisions, limiting punitive damage awards that raise health costs, and seizing the power of emerging technologies.
Democrats in this new era had a vision themselves. In a military-reference-heavy 2008 Democratic platform (2008 Dem Platform), Democrats wanted to see national security put above politics, stating:
We will also put national security above divisive politics. More than 12,500 service men and women have been discharged on the basis of sexual orientation since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was implemented, at a cost of over $360 million. Many of those forced out had special skills in high demand, such as translators, engineers, and pilots. At a time when the military is having a tough time recruiting and retaining troops, it is wrong to deny our country the service of brave, qualified people. We support the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the implementation of policies to allow qualified men and women to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation
Eventually, this policy was reversed by Democratic President Barack Obama. Democrats in 2008 also were concerned with border security. Democrats acknowledged the generosity of the American people, but felt that there needed to be an end to undetected, undocumented, and unchecked people entering the country. Democrats said that, “those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law.” An expansion of US Customs and Border Patrol, and enhancements to the legal immigration system in place, were a high priority, as the platform stated:
For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. We support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. They are our neighbors, and we can help them become full tax-paying, law-abiding, productive members of society.
In 2008, Democrats also wanted to see an end to violence against women, both at home and abroad, and a more perfect union, saying Democrats have to do their part to lift up the country to make sure all Americans were treated equally under the law.
In 2016, the Republican Party platform sought to reaffirm principles that unite Americans in a common purpose (2016 Republican Platform). Republicans at this time found that “traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.” This Platform also sought to affirm the unborn child’s fundamental right to life, supporting a human life amendment to the Constitution.
Republicans at this time also found conservation to be inherently conservative. The platform asserted that private ownership of land is a better guarantee to land being preserved while the worst degradation occurs under government control. The federal government was also called on to give away controlled land to states, so that states could collect their own revenues to support localities. In education, Republicans sought to find ways to be more efficient in spending, as on education when there have not been many great improvements over the years of students as a whole, and called for replacing family planning programs with an education based on abstinence until marriage. Republicans also wanted to reform prescriptions in the midst of the opioid epidemic, calling for doctors to not be penalized for limiting opioid prescriptions, and limiting patients to using one pharmacy.
The 2016 Republican platform finished with a message of hope, wanting to stand up to terrorist regimes, human trafficking, fight Internet censorship, and reaffirm the need for foreign aid, particularly in the form of private investments overseas.
How Have The Parties Changed?
Broadly, both the Democratic and Republican party have seen remarkable changes throughout the years. Democrats have been through many break-ups, constantly re-inventing what it means to be a Democrat. Republicans have always had a strong foundation, beginning their message with an urge for change, and currently messaging with an urge to be more traditional. Regardless of what party is in control of the White House, or Congress, it is great to be able to live in a country where parties can exist, and can disagree but find enough common ground to determine the best solutions for the lives of all Americans.
- Tyler, The National Watch